[Early Review] Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood (2019)

Director: Quentin Tarantino

Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Emile Hirsch, Margaret Qualley, Timothy Olyphant, Austin Butler, Dakota Fanning, Bruce Dern, Al Pacino

Screenplay: Quentin Tarantino

161 mins. Rated R for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references.

 

I’m a sucker for movies about making movies and Hollywood. I also adore the 1960s as a setting. Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a film seemingly tailor-made for me, including having my favorite director, Quentin Tarantino (The Hateful Eight, Django Unchained) at the helm. So what did I think?

The year is 1969. The once-bankable film star Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio, Inception, The Revenant) is making his living by appearing in guest roles on various television series, usually as the villain. His agent, Marvin Schwarzs (Al Pacino, Serpico, Paterno) doesn’t think these roles are helping his career, and he tries to push Dalton into doing Italian Spaghetti Westerns. Rick’s stunt-double Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt, Moneyball, Deadpool 2) is searching for work himself as Rick needs a double less and less, but he has a bad reputation in the industry. Rick’s concern over his career is causing him to have a personal crisis, but he is reinvigorated when he discovers that he is living next to director Roman Polanski and his new wife Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie, Suicide Squad, Mary Queen of Scots). All the while during this, out on the Spahn Movie Ranch, a cult is forming led by Charles Manson.

Many have come to the belief that Margot Robbie’s Sharon Tate is a central element to the film. Her character, in fact, is a lot more like a looming presence that the 1960s and the free-love hippie culture are coming to an end very soon. She’s not featured as much as one might think in the film, and neither is Charles Manson, who barely has any dialogue whatsoever.

The stars of the film are DiCaprio and Pitt, and they are the two characters that are most engaging, and they are the two with the best chemistry in the film. Don’t kid yourself about this being a Manson family film because it isn’t, and that’s fine because the incredible Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth are worth the price of admission alone. They are two fully-realized, equally flawed, and equally enthralling. These two are some of Tarantino’s best characters in his entire career, and both actors put their all into it.

The third big character in the film is Hollywood, and it is gorgeously shot. This is Tarantino’s love letter to a world that has changed and, for the most part, disappeared. It’s a rare glimpse into an aging has-been’s world as it begins to crumble and the stunt-double/driver/entourage/friend who tries to keep him in one piece, and without the amazing production design, costuming, and cinematography, the film wouldn’t work half as well.

The pacing is rather strong here as well. I didn’t notice the time flying by and I was surprised when the film had concluded because I didn’t think nearly three hours had gone by that quick. It’s a testament to the world that Tarantino puts to the screen, and it didn’t take me out of the film to see actors I knew from today playing actors I know from decades ago because each was so meticulously collected for the cast, and it’s an impressive damn cast.

If there’s a flaw with the film, it’s only that I’m somewhat divided on its conclusion. I will have to see it again to know for certain how I feel about it. I’m not going to get into any specifics but it is definitely an exciting finale to say the least.

Once Upon a Time…in Hollywood is a very strong Quentin Tarantino that’s more melancholic and thoughtful. He takes his time building the story and seemingly every sequence has a purpose in developing character or moving plot. This is a film that may divide audiences more than some of his previous outings, and I’m not sure yet how I feel about everything that takes place, but I loved the theatrical experience, the characters, and the world. Go see it as soon as you can…and don’t spoil it for others.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Quentin Tarantino’s The Hateful Eight, click here.

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